I'm Laura Morel, a cops and courts reporter at the Tampa Bay Times. During my 10-month investigation into stolen guns in Florida, I found that at least 82,000 guns reported stolen since 2007 in Florida have never been recovered. They’re often taken from unlocked cars, including one Glock that was later used to kill a Florida cop. I also looked at gun shop heists, and how many gun stores aren’t doing their best to lock up their businesses overnight. AMA!


Comments: 1931 • Responses: 40  • Date: 

PompeyJon82421 karma

What is your hunch on where you think they end up?

lauracmorel653 karma

Hi there. So I found cases where these stolen guns were later found in drug houses or on drug dealers or convicted felons who can't legally buy a gun. A few guns, I found, were used to commit violent crimes, like shootings and murders, including the murder of a Florida police officer. The cops also said a lot of these guns end up being trafficked across state lines, potentially affecting other communities.

meatboat2tunatown375 karma

Sounds like a real problem - have you come up with any solid, reasonable solutions to this problem in your investigations? (other than lock your damn doors and similar common sense things)

lauracmorel514 karma

I present two alternatives in my stories. The first: responsible gun ownership, and the idea that gun owners should secure their weapons and do everything in their power to make sure these guns don't get into the wrong hands. But I also spoke to some experts and lawmakers who say the issue could be better addressed through laws that require gun owners to secure their weapons. Right now, Massachusetts is the only state that has such a law in place. One law professor who studies gun policy told me: "A lot of people aren’t really aware of the dangers of unsecured guns... I do think (laws) would make people more cautious.”

helljumper230270 karma

Have you encountered any evidence that laws requiring locked up guns made victims of gun theft less likely to report it?

Any evidence of MA gun owners being afraid of repercussions?

lauracmorel277 karma

I haven't encountered any research or studies that suggest gun theft victims are less likely to come forward, but that's a really, really good point.

helljumper230168 karma

As a “progun” guy that’s why my instinct is not supportive of a law like that.

But I haven’t seen any data that would make me feel to strongly one way or the other.

I much prefer social pressure than legal. So whoever I might teach about guns, I teach them to be responsible.

lauracmorel236 karma

Yeah, but that raises another challenge: How do we make sure gun owners are responsible? In Florida, people who get their concealed carry permit have to take a firearms safety class. I've heard that while some of these courses are very thorough, others are sub par. Maybe the solution is in requiring that these classes teach the exact same curriculum, including safe storage? Just a thought.

helljumper23037 karma

I agree “responsibility” can be subjective and not always there.

And good training should be part of every gun owners arsenal.

But what about cost of the training? Do you want to pass a law to require training that might mean lower class families who might live in bad areas, can’t afford the license to protect themselves?

Seems all the swords cut both ways ya know?

lauracmorel34 karma

True! It's a tough issue to address.

hansie6812 karma

Any chance that the NRA would be on board with a law putting more responsibility on gun owners?

lauracmorel49 karma

I actually don't know because the NRA declined to talk to me for my story.

hansie6813 karma

So I can safely assume that would be a no.

lauracmorel29 karma


hansie6810 karma

Without the NRA on board, the chance of any legislation in practically nil. So we are stuck with asking people to please not be irresponsible with these deadly tools. I'm not brimming with confidence that this will be an effective plan.

lauracmorel22 karma

Yeah, it'll definitely be hard to see any widespread changes... complicating things is this 1987 preemption law in Florida that bars local governments from creating their own gun restrictions. So it's really up to state lawmakers to look at this issue. If that doesn't happen, the only alternative is to continue to educate gun owners about their duty to be responsible. It's complicated.

hansie683 karma

I try not to be cynical....but it's hard. For the record, I am a gun owner. I like to believe responsibly.

lauracmorel11 karma

I'm pretty cynical too, but I do think talking about these issues will hopefully bring light to this problem and encourage gun owners to think twice before leaving that car unlocked.

tragic-waste-of-skin190 karma

Who the hell forgets to lock their cars that store a loaded firearm?

lauracmorel218 karma

Apparently, a lot of people. I think psychologically, it comes down to assuming that your vehicle is a safe space and that no one will violate your privacy. But in reality, an unlocked car is a huge crime of opportunity for thieves. All they have to do is open your door and rummage inside. There's no need to smash windows. Law enforcement around Florida have been trying for years through different public campaigns that gun owners should either lock their cars, or take their firearm with them when they get home.

SnakeFarmer1 karma

I did this. Gun was stolen. Pretty awful feeling.

lauracmorel7 karma

Was the gun ever found?

superbDOG46100 karma

What is the most common gun you get?

lauracmorel117 karma

Most thieves end up taking smaller guns. Cops say that's because they're easy to hide. Here are some breakdowns of the kinds of guns that were stolen in Florida since 2007: Data from 2007 to the present Disguised gun 77 Electric shock gun 259 Machine gun 52 Pistol 63,815 Rifle 10,390 Rifle-shotgun combo 246 Shotgun 5,662 Shotgun pistol 41 Submachine gun or machine pistol 1,113 Others, including electrically charged darts 404

helljumper230189 karma

What’s the definition for “machine gun” and “sub machine gun” here. 1000+ NFA items going missing in 10 years seems like a lot.

lauracmorel49 karma

I'm actually not sure... the cops determine how to label the gun in the database and I would have to pull those specific reports to determine what kind of gun they were talking about. Sorry I can't give a more clear answer!

RichardMorto100 karma

What do you think about state or federally implementing a program to provide subsudies or large tax breaks for gun owners that purchase a US made gun safe? Basically making it economically appealing to obtain the hardware to safely and securely store their weapons to keep them away from thieves and children

lauracmorel74 karma

I think that's a valid idea. It'll be interesting to see if any state lawmakers take a look at this issue in the next legislative session here in Florida. Some I talked to during my reporting said the solution could be to provide incentives, like what you suggested, to promote responsible gun ownership.

Tarantio90 karma

Somebody else mentioned straw purchasers who say their guns were stolen, but really sold them to criminals.

Have you encountered instances that you think might have been examples of this?

lauracmorel74 karma

I actually didn't find this kind of example related to straw purchasers in my reporting, but it's possible it happens. It would be really hard to track because in police reports, the gun owner would just seem like a legitimate owner and not someone coordinating a straw purchase.

EverybodyLovesMormon83 karma

Hello. I live in Arizona. What is your opinion on Operation Fast and Furious? Also, the city of Tucson police recently switched from destroying seized weapons to selling them. What is your opinion on police departments handling seized weapons? Is destroying or selling them better?

RandomLEOThrowaway80 karma

So I'm actually a cop in Tucson. Interestingly enough when it comes to State Law, Tucson likes to go against the grain (for example weed possession is instantly dropped down to a misdemeanor here even though it's still a felony everywhere else in AZ). Destroying confiscated guns was one of those things however state law says that they must be sold rather than destroyed. The only reason we switched is because the AZ Supreme Court is forcing us to sell them.

lauracmorel38 karma

Has anyone reported if any of those guns from police depts were later used in crimes?

lauracmorel27 karma

Thanks for the questions. I don't know enough about Fast and Furious to offer you my thoughts on it. As for destroying or selling seized weapons, I know that this varies by agency. A colleague of mine in Texas is actually working on a project about this very issue that should be out in early December. It'll be on the radio podcast Reveal, in case you wanted to check it out.

mrmoundshroud58 karma

I can understand the habit of leaving a gun in the car for the sake of not violating the law. I can even understand leaving it behind to avoid discomfort. What interest me is the lack of concern to lock the car or at least put the gun in the trunk. Is there something in the Floridian culture that promotes a more relaxed attitude about their guns than I have with my backpack?

lauracmorel41 karma

Awesome question. I also wondered too what role Florida's pro-gun culture played on this issue of unlocked cars. I think the fact that there are lots and lots of guns in Florida might make this kind of item more ubiquitous, to the point where some people might forget how dangerous these guns can be in the wrong hands. But as I mentioned in a previous comment, I think it also comes down to assuming that you can leave your car unlocked and people will respect your privacy. Oftentimes, these burglaries happen in "nice" suburban neighborhoods because thieves know that these residents will be more relaxed in securing their property.

lauracmorel45 karma

Also, here's the second story in the series, about gun shop heists in Florida: http://project.tampabay.com/2017/special-report/unlocked-loaded/gun-dealers/

DakarCarGunGuy31 karma

Are you a gun owner? What is your personal take on the climate towards 2A guns?

lauracmorel59 karma

I'm not a gun owner, but I've been debating on whether I should get one. I think the climate toward guns becomes more and more contentious every year, especially after mass shootings. I tried to make my story as nuanced as possible, focusing on an issue that doesn't necessarily entail "gun control," but more depending on gun owners to make the right decision re securing their guns.

DakarCarGunGuy18 karma

There is a Washington Times reporter named Emily. I don't remember her last name, she wrote a book called "Emily gets her gun" she's on Facebook and has been on Fox discussing guns before. I haven't read the book but as a person showing interest it may be of use. Also take a class or two at a shooting range and just go shooting! As a starter if you've never shot any guns, go for a .22 ammo is cheap and plentiful, no kick from pistol or rifle (I recommend Ruger), and not much noise except for the pistols....they will ALWays be loud! Go shooting and have fun..... I guarantee you'll have fun! My niece always does even when she didn't want to go.

lauracmorel12 karma

Thanks for the advice!

green4928512 karma

What way, if any, is the best way to combat this issue?

lauracmorel33 karma

So a lot of these guns are taken from unlocked cars. So in this case, the best deterrence is to lock your car, especially if you have a gun inside of it. Cops also advise homeowners to invest in a safe where they can store weapons at home. It basically comes down to responsible gun ownership.

mrrp46 karma

So a lot of these guns are taken from unlocked cars.

Florida has a long list of places where carry isn't allowed. (polling places, schools, bars, government meetings, airports, pro sporting events, etc.) Have you determined how many of these thefts occur outside of venues where people can not carry?

(I'd prefer that people keep their firearms in their holsters and on their bodies rather than leaving them in their cars.)

lauracmorel29 karma

The data I have doesn't break it down by location of the theft. So the short answer is no, I don't know how many of these thefts occurred outside of venues where people can not carry. But I did talk about this in my first story. I spoke to Florida Carry, and they talked about how gun owners often have no choice but to leave their guns in their cars depending on where they are. I think in this scenario, it just comes down to making sure your car is locked, that your gun isn't visible from the outside. Maybe even invest in a portable safe you can secure under your car seat.

3byon238 karma

If you were to give your best estimate on how many firearms, recorded and unrecorded, there are in the state of florida, what would it be?

lauracmorel8 karma

This is tough! I can tell that based on looking at some agency specific numbers, about a third are reported stolen without a SN. So if we apply that same percent to the 82,000 we know are still missing since 2007, then there's probably tens of thousands more that never even made it into the statewide database. And that would be a conservative number.

TrapMster8 karma

How do you find the guns after they've been stolen and what is your favorite gun manufacturer?

lauracmorel7 karma

Well, the cops find stolen guns this way: when a gun is reported stolen, its serial number (if the owner knows it) is entered into statewide and nationwide databases for missing property. This way, if a cop somewhere else ever comes across this gun again, either at a crime scene or someone finds it, they can search its SN and see that it was reported stolen. If the gun wasn't used in a crime, it will be sent back to the original owner. And your second question: I don't have a favorite gun manufacturer, but am looking for suggestions as I debate buying a gun!

DakarCarGunGuy6 karma

Is there a data base that other states could check serial numbers and see if it was stolen from another state? How often are they missing serial numbers or is that not available in your statistics?

lauracmorel14 karma

Really good questions. 1. I only focused on Florida, but I do think some states might also have databases that the public can search. 2. Stolen guns are missing serial numbers ALL THE TIME and that's a big part of the problem. Cops told me that gun owners often don't know their serial numbers. So when a gun is stolen, they can't give the SN to police. Without that number, there is essentially no way to ever identify and recover that gun. I was able to look at agency specific data. At the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office, for instance, 40 percent of stolen gun reports lacked a SN between 2014 and 2016.

lauracmorel8 karma

Also, in Miami, more than 400 guns were reported stolen without serial numbers between 2014 and 2016.

DakarCarGunGuy8 karma

I need to record mine. I have them locked up and have a safe in my cars when traveling. I think manufacturers are starting to put the number in multiple places to help with this.

lauracmorel6 karma

That's great to hear that you keep them locked. I would also recommend taking photos of them too on top of writing down the serial number.

evilchops3 karma

I live in Florida and have heard a ton of rumors of sketchy pawnshops being places to go to sell the stolen guns and these places often have multiple locations in other states to sell the guns and ways of making the gun "clean" , do you think there's any truth to that?

lauracmorel8 karma

That would be a fascinating story if I could confirm that... but it's not something I came across when doing reporting for this story.

cHaOsReX3 karma

May not have been in the scope of your investigation but how many guns recovered traced from out of state or out of country?

lauracmorel4 karma

Unfortunately, the database I looked at only included missing stolen guns. I found examples of recovered guns through arrest reports (people charged with theft of a stolen firearm) or by asking cops if they knew of any major crimes committed with stolen guns. Long story short, I don't know how many of these wind up out of state or our of the country. But cops, especially the ATF, told me this does happen. But most stolen guns, they believe, remain in the communities they were stolen in and are swapped for drugs or cash.

random_door_knob2 karma

Is it hot in Florida?

lauracmorel3 karma

All the time. Today, it's 83 degrees.

iwouldrun500miles1 karma

Has a similar investigation been done in other states? It seems like 82,000 guns being stolen in that time is a LOT. Be curious to see how other states stack up.

righttothesame3-1 karma

What is your opinion on the recent mass shooting?

lauracmorel3 karma

I think it's awful and I know it's prompting more dialogue about gun control, as many of these mass shootings do.

InTupacWeTrust-4 karma

What's your opinion on the countless number of illegal guns begin sold on the dark web?

lauracmorel11 karma

Thanks for the question. Most of the recovered guns I looked at in Florida were found at crime scenes or on convicted felons. I didn't find any that were being sold on the web. I know that happens, though, especially via private sellers. The best way to make sure a gun you're looking to purchase isn't stolen in by calling the cops and asking them to check the serial number for you. If you're in Florida, you can actually search for SNs here: http://pas.fdle.state.fl.us/pas/restricted/PAS/StolenGun.jsf

jdunck-5 karma

I'm in favor of legislation that would hold owners of stolen guns liable for crimes committed with their guns. I bet they'd be a lot more careful with securing them then.

1) Do you agree it would be effective? 2) Do you see any political path to passing such legislation?

lauracmorel3 karma

  1. I couldn't find a lot of solid research that suggested those kinds of laws are effective, but I think in the minds of some experts and lawmakers, it's worth a shot considering nothing else seems to be working. 2. The NRA has a prominent presence in Florida, so it will be interesting to watch if my story prompts lawmakers to propose a bill, and how far that bill will make it through the committee process. It's not uncommon for gun restriction proposals to die in Florida.

ForrestBubba20201 karma

How would this work exactly? Wouldn't this just discourage owners of stolen guns from reporting theft, in order to avoid liability? There's no registry for gun ownership in the United States so it isn't as if there's a list of serial numbers and who they previously belonged to prior to the theft.

lauracmorel2 karma

True re the liability. Maybe the answer is in providing incentives? Like a discount or tax break on a safe? Maybe requiring a firearms safety course?

meatboat2tunatown-8 karma

Have you ever been morel hunting? If so, have you ever eated them and are they as amazing as everyone sez? If not, would you care to join me?

lauracmorel6 karma

I get this question all the time. No, I have never been morel hunting, but I've also heard they are really good.

meatboat2tunatown-10 karma

Do you think cops are systematically targeting and killing black people?

lauracmorel8 karma

I didn't explore this issue in my own project, but our newspaper wrote about it earlier this year: http://project.tampabay.com.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com/2017/investigations/florida-police-shootings/why-cops-shoot/